Legal Dispute

UNESCO welcomes UNSC resolution to protect cultural heritage in Syria, Iraq

“UNESCO welcomes UNSC resolution to protect cultural heritage in Syria, Iraq”

via “KUNA

PARIS, Feb 13 (KUNA) — The Director-General of the UNESCO Irina Bokova welcomed on Friday the adoption of a new UN Security Council Resolution 2199 that condemns the destruction of cultural heritage and adopts legally-binding measures to counter illicit trafficking of antiquities and cultural objects from Iraq and Syria.
“The adoption of resolution 2199 is a milestone for enhanced protection of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, extending to Syria the prohibition of trade of cultural objects already in place for Iraq since 2003,” Bokova said.
“It is also a clear recognition that the pillage, destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage are more than a cultural tragedy – this is also a security and political imperative to be taken into account in all peace efforts,” she added.
Bokova warned that the pillage of Iraq’s and Syria’s culture has reached an unprecedented scale in Iraq and Syria, adding that the revenues of such as fuel the conflicts by providing money for armed groups and terrorists.
“This resolution acknowledges that cultural heritage stands on the frontline of conflicts today, and it should be placed at the frontline of security and political response to the crisis”, she said.
She also welcomed the strong call to the responsibility of all parties in the conflict to protect cultural heritage. She commended also the overwhelming support by Security Council Members in favor of this resolution.
“The protection of the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq has strategic implications – it is fundamental for the identity and social cohesion of all Iraqis and Syrians and it is a precondition for future reconciliation and recovery”.
Welcoming the explicit role attributed to UNESCO by the Security Council, Bokova reaffirmed the Organization’s commitment “to stand by Member States to ensure the full respect of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property”.
“The destruction of the unique cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq is a loss for all humanity and it is our common responsibility to stand up for its protection,” she concluded.

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Swiss Museum Publishes List of Nazi Loot Art Trove

“Swiss Museum Publishes List of Nazi Loot Art Trove”

via “Reuters

File picture showing the facade of the Kunsmuseum Bern art museum in Bern

ZURICH (Reuters) – A Swiss museum published a list on Thursday of all the art found in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, a German recluse whose secret collection included masterpieces looted from their Jewish owners by the Nazis.

The Bern Art Museum was named as sole heir to the collection and on Monday reluctantly accepted the bequest, making clear that it would adopt a policy of total transparency to head off any criticism over its decision to take in the artwork.

“We have promised transparency and are now acting accordingly,” Matthias Frehner, director of the Kunstmuseum Bern, said in a statement.

Gurlitt’s collection of over 1,200 artworks had been hidden away for decades until German tax inspectors stumbled upon it during a raid on his Munich apartment in 2012. A government task force identified three pieces that were indisputably looted by the Nazis which would be returned to the heirs.

Bern Art Museum has said it will not accept any piece which experts believed might have been stolen and by publishing the full list it hopes it might still discover the rightful owners.

Switzerland has worked hard in recent years to shake-off its reputation as a haven for ill-gotten gains, and the museum is anxious to avoid the legal risks associated with accepting disputed art works.

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A Family Battles Over a Disappearing Trove of Chinese Paintings

“A Family Battles Over a Disappearing Trove of Chinese Paintings”

By Graham Bowley via “New York Times

It has evolved into one of New York’s longest-running fights over an estate.

For more than a decade, the family of C. C. Wang, a collector whose name graces a gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been battling over a trove of classical Chinese paintings and scrolls that has been described as among the finest in the world.

Now, the feud has escalated. In the past month, two of Mr. Wang’s children, who have been fighting in Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan since his death in 2003 at 96, filed lawsuits in state and federal courts accusing each other of looting and deceit.

But beyond the family strife, a broader issue is dismaying Chinese-art experts for whom the Wang collection has long been a source of wonder.

Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of works from an estate once valued in court papers at more than $60 million have gone missing, including an 11th-century scroll, “The Procession of Taoist Immortals,” that is viewed in China as a national treasure.

“This is heartbreaking, and it is happening right here in the city,” said Laura B. Whitman, a specialist in Chinese art formerly with Sotheby’s and Christie’s, who used to visit Mr. Wang at his apartment in New York to view his collection.

Divining who rightfully owns these works, and who is to blame for the disappearance of so many of them, has consumed the family for more than a decade.

The case has become so complex, and so expensive, that the Surrogate’s Court has suspended discussing matters of inheritance until it can come up with a reliable inventory of what was initially in the collection to see if the estate will be able to pay lawyers and other creditors.

Among the few certainties at this point is that Mr. Wang demonstrated the ability to acquire objects of historical importance, objects that since his death have increased many times in value as the Chinese art market has boomed.

Born near Suzhou, China, in 1907, he moved to the United States during China’s political upheavals in 1949, settling in Manhattan, where he built a career teaching, consulting at Sotheby’s, and dealing in real estate and in art. He became the dean of the rarefied market for Chinese art in New York and was an accomplished artist in his own right. By the end of the 1990s, the Met had bought some 60 works that were once part of his collection and named a gallery in his honor.

Among the Met acquisitions was a colossal hanging scroll titled “Riverbank,” attributed to the 10th-century painter Dong Yuan, but which attracted its own controversy after some scholars declared it a 20th-century forgery.

Maxwell K. Hearn, chairman of the Met’s Asian art department, said Mr. Wang acquired much of his important collection early on, when the market for Chinese art didn’t exist.

“He saw their continued relevance as sources of artistic inspiration,” Mr. Hearn said. “Now, they have become enormously valuable, because people are recognizing their cultural significance and acknowledge him as a source of validation.”

Before his death, Mr. Wang left some works to his daughter Yien-Koo Wang King, now 79, and some to his son, Shou-Kung Wang, now 85, both of whom served during different periods as confidant and business agent to their father.

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Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

by Thomas D. Williams via “Breitbart

The sale of archaeological treasures from the Biblical city of Nineveh and the surrounding territory is becoming one of the main sources of funding of the Islamic State in Kurdistan as well as in Syria, according to reports by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

A USB stick recovered from an Islamic State militant by Iraqi intelligence in August documents the value of revenues on the black market at $32 million. Among the items for sale: hundreds of headstones, inscriptions, mosaics, and adornments.

According to Qais Hussein Rasheed, head of the state-run Museums Department in Iraq, black market dealers are entering areas under Islamic State control to buy these items.

In their zeal to destroy what they consider to be heresy, Islamic State militants have demolished many artifacts but they are cashing in at the same time, extracting valuable relics to sell on the international black market.

Profiting from religious artifacts represents a curious double game. On the one hand, the precepts of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist Islamic sect, require the destruction of every object of worship not directed to Allah. This has justified the demolition of churches, mosques, and tombs, and has been carried out with maximum media exposure.

On the other hand—this time without advertising it—the same IS leaders are now either selling artifacts directly or granting access to occupied archeological zones to teams of professional looters. They then split the revenues from the plunder according to the Islamic law of Khums: a fifth of the spoils must be paid to God, ie, the Islamic state.

The Turkish border is only a few hours away with Western brokers waiting to transfer the artifacts to the major black art markets: London, New York, and Tokyo. . . . .

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Association of Art Museum Directors Sanctions Delaware Art Museum

Association of Art Museum Directors Sanctions Delaware Art Museum

by MH Miller via “The Observer”

“The Association of Art Museum Directors has sanctioned the Delaware Art Museum following the institution’s deacessioning a work from its collection to help pay off its debt. William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil(1868) sold at Christie’s this week for a final hammer price of $4.25 million, far below estimate. Sanctions result in the museum being unable to accept exhibition loans from any of 242 AAMD members, not to mention a serious loss of reputation among the art community. The AAMD’s statement on the matter is below.

The Association of Art Museum Directors is deeply troubled and saddened that the Delaware Art Museum has deaccessioned and sold a work of art from its collection to pay outstanding debt and build its operating endowment. Art museums collect works of art for the benefit of present and future generations. Responsible stewardship of a museum’s collection and the conservation, exhibition, and study of these works are the heart of a museum’s commitment to its community and to the public. It is therefore a fundamental professional principle that works can only be deaccessioned to provide funds to acquire works of art and enhance a museum’s collection.

AAMD does not agree that the Delaware Art Museum had only two options to address its current financial challenges—sell works from the collection or close the museum. Over the course of more than six months prior to this sale, AAMD reached out to the Delaware Art Museum’s leadership on multiple occasions in the hope that we could offer assistance in investigating alternatives to the planned sale—including helping the museum to campaign for private funding—in order to support the museum in upholding the highest professional standards. With this sale, the museum is treating works from its collection as disposable assets, rather than irreplaceable cultural heritage that it holds in trust for people now and in the future. It is also sending a clear signal to its audiences that private support is unnecessary, since it can always sell additional items from its collection to cover its costs. . . . . .”

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